The undergrowth snapped and crinkled underfoot, rustling and shuffling to make way for the dark form that stumbled heedlessly though it. This form that broke branches and shoved aside leaves with its shins was tiredly bent from exertion, its fatigue increased by the heavy burden carried across its shaking arms. The dark carrier, his masculine elegance veiled by a posture of exhaustion, was hauling a second body, a limp, subtle, broken female frame. She was like an anchor; her arms and legs hung, pendulums, as her bearer forged ahead with slow aimlessness.
Heuani did not know where he was going, where he was carrying her, but that wasn't important. All he knew was the desire to move, the surety of physical action, the comfort of self-flagellation; he wanted to work himself into a stupor. This, he told himself, was no different than his deliberately demanding forays up the bright mountain; part of him, he could admit, took refuge in deadening his body. His soul felt most awake, then. He was only deadening his body; the shrubs and trees around him grew more daunting with each new step.
Her head was propped against his shoulder. It vibrated a little, synchronized with his straining muscles. This wasn't just a trip up the mountain. He was powerless in more ways than the physical.
By now, Heuani had numbed himself to her ravaged face. He was able to impose his own images onto the bloody canvas of her visage, see her in past splendor rather than in a shattered state. He saw her flawless face, tender lips slightly parted, magnetic eyes closed. She was asleep, and she nuzzled close to his breast as he carried her under the dappled canopy. Looking up at the green ceiling, Heuani embraced the smile that rose on his mouth; it echoed the slight upward bend of her brows, contented even in dreams. In his arms, renewed of their strength, her slender blue figure was immaculately soft. He had to stop himself from laughing with joy - he didn't want to wake her - but it was difficult; he was happy.
The delusion of his mind did not stop Heuani's body from collapsing with exhaustion. Under a particularly knotted tree, he fell, and she rolled out of his hands to slump over a root. Heuani tried to push himself up to sitting, but his arms would have none of it; he was a prisoner of his weakness, powerless to save her from her graceless sprawled position. Both Toa of Shadow lay unceremoniously like that until Heuani gathered back enough of his strength to crawl over to the tree and lean against it. He rolled her into his arms; she leaned into him as thoughtless weight, and his grip was limp about her body. His fingers heedlessly inched over her hands; they had become cold. Heuani's mind glorified the contact.
Once more, she was his. Somehow, she was his…
Heuani closed his eyes; he desperately saw the images of her past retreat into mist. He was returned to the present, and the cold clamps set down on his ribs. Her gorgeous shell was crumpled, her spirit impaled by one of the sharp edges. He felt a lump in his throat; her hand was limp in his, limp like before, but now too real. It was all real too quickly, and the emptiness in Heuani was a tender void of which he was too aware. The hope that had been brought to the surface when he'd seen her, that one day she might fill this cavern, was wrenched away forcibly from his crying soul.
The bright sun that penetrated the branches burned the Toa of Shadow where it landed on him. His memories of joyful sunlight were few; the sun had not been his friend a long time. Now it was his enemy, for its happy light reminded him of his own demise. Joske’s victory over him stung more than any flesh wound. Before the impertinent Toa had routed him, everything had been perfect. Heuani had been perfect. Perhaps if Joske and the others had not shattered his confidence before he saw her for the first time, he would have been able to allure her again.
After all, he’d been irresistible.
Heuani had been looking at his reflection in the still, oily pool for minutes; he still couldn’t tear his eyes away from the new face that looked up at him. The visage he saw was inexpressibly elegant, perfectly symmetrical; for the umpteenth time, Heuani traced his foreign chin, his cheeks, and his forehead. They flowed into one another with the fluid grace of quicksilver. From beneath an intelligent brow, his pair of indescribable golden irises darted over the features of the image below. Heuani gently kissed his face with two slim fingertips just below the enigmatic eyes that he had to learn were his.
The lines of his body further down were of equal grace. Heuani’s matte jet armor was sharp at the same time as it was sleek and rounded, dangerous at the same time as it was alluring. Heuani knew he had been well built before the transformation he’d undergone, but it was impossible for him not to notice the slight, telling, alterations that made the new him a more defined, sensual silhouette. He was in awe of his own utter perfection. Every part of his body fit with the others as though woven together that way by the hand of a benevolent god. The god had, of course, been far from benevolent; but looking at what he had become, Heuani hardly cared.
Though he noticed his voice hadn’t changed much, Heuani felt a wholly new rhythm come into it, something much more persuasive and smooth, honey sliding down velvet. It fit his newly impeccable form much better than the way he used to speak. He smiled at his image and perceived his heightened charm. Heuani was satisfied with the changes he saw. If he wished it he could be, he realized, utterly irresistible.
That had been a part of the bargain, after all; he had demanded irresistibility, and he had gotten it. It had been a hard deal to drive, but Heuani still felt as though he’d come out better for it. Though he had been subjected to numerous and grueling procedures, many of which he still could only guess at the nature of, and he’d pledged his loyalty to a master for the first time in his life, he had emerged at the end of it all as a superior version of himself. Heuani confessed that he was satisfied with the results… besides, whatever he had gone through to get here, he knew that he was certainly in a better place than the others.
Thinking about them gave the dark Toa pause, but not too much. Heuani hadn’t lost all of his memories. He simply found that, after one of his procedures, the room with the biting leeches, he cared less about the shards of remembrance he had left. He seemed to have recalled more before the chamber with the strange rocks; all he remembered now was the vanity of his former quest and the foolishness he’d had for undertaking it. He could look back on what he’d once been with the scorn his former self deserved.
Heuani checked himself; he did remember more, thinking about it. He had many memories, but looking for them was like peering through a cracked window at a field of fog. The only thing that was still really tangible from his past were the terms of the deal he had made and the person he had made them for. Even now the song of her laughter and the smile of her eyes were at his mind’s beck and call. The darkness, though, had been omniscient, and it had picked up on Heuani’s fantasies as easily as if they were blades of grass plucked from a meadow. It had discovered the secret sunshine of his mind and used the light’s distance as a bargaining chip.
When he had agreed to negotiate with the darkness, Heuani could recall, he had told himself that making a bargain would protect her and the others from a much worse fate. But, reflecting on his breaking point, the Toa of Shadow knew that he’d only been finding excuses at the time to justify selfish actions; he made none of the lofty sacrifices he assured himself he was making. He’d acted in self-interest alone – and Heuani, thinking about all that, honestly didn’t care. He felt refreshed to have done what he wanted, for once.
Doing what he wanted had gotten him his beautiful self, after all. It had brought him vast power he had not yet tested but could nevertheless feel coursing through his new body. And, most importantly, he knew that she would be his at last. She would be his because he was irresistible.
The doors opened, and she entered.
Heuani heard the sounds of somebody coming through the undergrowth – or several somebodies, the rustling was too loud for a single person, and he could pick out the distant murmur of conversation – and he was very much aware of his back against the tree, of her weight pinning him there. Whoever was approaching, he had to dispatch them – Heuani needed to be alone, needed to have her, have this day and time, to himself – but he was keenly aware of his own weaknesses. He did not have the energy to stand, let alone fight, so he would have to act quickly, rely on his words and his shades to rectify the situation. But he was starting to doubt even those weapons’ effectiveness.
It was a small party of five Matoran, walking away from the Kini-Nui temple after the battle that had been there. Heuani didn’t know why these Matoran were journeying through the jungle, nor did he care. They had to go. He sucked on the darkness between the roots to ready himself.
When the Matoran strode into Heuani’s clear vision, he slaughtered them. Three were immediately beheaded by a razor-thin shade; a second dark blade dropped the fourth; the fifth and last Matoran had time to shout before her jugular was severed and she fell with her companions. Stillness returned to the jungle.
Heuani, lightheaded after the effort, gasped as he let his shades dissolve. He cursed his luck; the scream from the last Matoran must have drawn somebody else’s attention, because he heard more feet surging through the vegetation towards him. He did not have the elemental power left to fend off another prying eye; he could only wait and listen. He distinguished two pairs of feet coming from behind him; the trunk against which Heuani leaned prevented him from seeing these newcomers until they had already passed him. He recognized them. He was flabbergasted.
One was his foe, Joske, infuriatingly familiar.
The other was the female he’d devoured the night before. Cael. Alive.
Cael, the sacrifice… she had offered herself to Heuani in exchange for Joske’s safety. Heuani had taken her… She should have been dead. He remembered… He could still see the sweet twinkle leave her dilated pupils as he’d garroted her. There’d been no doubt that she had died then. But she was alive.
Maybe Cael was a vision; he could be imagining her, he was very dizzy. Heuani scrutinized the Toa of Water as she and Joske galloped past his tree towards the dead Matoran. They didn’t notice Heuani and Reka, low to the earth, darkly colored, motionless; the bright pile of slain Matoran drew their gaze instead. As far as Heuani could tell, Cael looked real, and if she was a vision, he wasn’t the only one who saw her. Joske spoke to Cael as they bent over the bodies.
“It looks like we were too late,” he said. Heuani’s hands crinkled silently into powerless fists at the sound of Joske’s voice.
“They’re very recently deceased,” Cael replied. “They’re still bleeding… so the killer must not be too far away.” She was about to turn around before Joske caught her attention again with his voice.
“Look at this,” Joske said, gingerly holding up the Matoran with the slit throat. “This cut is incredibly thin. Too thin to have been made by any blade I can think of.”
“What do you think it was, then?” Cael asked.
“I think I have an idea,” Joske replied grimly, whipping around and noticing Heuani leaning against the tree. “Just as I suspected: Heuani.”
“Don’t pretend you were surprised,” Heuani spat viciously back; his smooth voice lost much of its former honey. “I have a very distinctive style. Leave, Joske, before I do to you what I did to them.”
Joske shook his head. “We won’t be intimidated by you,” he said, eyeing Reka’s broken body for the first time; Joske was clearly disgusted and shocked. “We won’t be bullied by the kind of shadow scum who does what you’ve done to her. You’ve defiled your last victim, Heuani-”
Heuani laughed derisively, hollowly, to cut him off. “You think I killed her?” he sneered. “No, it wasn’t me. It was your friends, the mighty Toa Maru, who robbed her of her life… But will you hunt them as murderers? I doubt it; there is great loyalty among ‘heroes.’ And what do you mean, ‘we won’t be bullied?’” Heuani looked cursorily again at Cael, then back to Joske. “I only see you here, Joske, and I do not think I’m bullying myself.”
“I was referring to Cael and I,” Joske replied.
“…Cael is dead,” Heuani said slowly. She had to be a hallucination. He shut his eyes tightly. But when he opened them again, Cael was still there. He refused to imagine her anymore; he tried to make her vanish from his sight. “I killed her. Do you need to hear how?”
“I remember it,” Cael frowned. She would not go away. Could she be-
“She is alive,” Joske smiled satisfactorily. “By the power of the Great Spirit, she lives again.”
“That’s impossible,” Heuani mumbled, though his excitedly throbbing chest disagreed. Reka still slouched in his grip. “Perhaps I see her, and you see her, but she isn’t there. The dead… cannot rise.”
“I did,” Cael told him. “I am as real as I ever was.”
“So prove it,” Heuani said. He couldn’t hide the note of desperation that entered his voice.
He extended a few fingers, gesturing for Cael to touch them. Instead, the Toa of Water kicked a small pebble at Heuani; it hit him in the forehead, and he felt it. She was alive.
“…How- How did you-“ Heuani sputtered.
“The mask,” Joske answered, gleeful at Heuani’s stupefaction. “It gave me the power to fulfill my destiny, to undo your evil deed. I sacrificed the mask, and all else, to bring Cael back… Because I love her.”
“I’m sure you think so,” Heuani retorted without gusto. The information deflated him. Hope had always been a fickle friend to him; once more, it abandoned the Toa of Shadow. One was dead, one alive. It was like a balance, he realized, for after one was gone, the other returned to haunt him. Why had the balance shifted? Was it destined, or caused? Heuani felt himself the fulcrum of something he couldn’t grasp. The Toa of Shadow’s beautiful face was pensive, but his eyes were sunken.
“You don’t know love, pretty boy,” he told Joske impassively. “I don’t think you could… You’re unspoiled. Love is anything but. It’s fleeting. It’s instants. And it’s never true.”
Joske started to respond; Heuani turned contemplatively inward instead of enduring the predictable monologue. He had avoided looking at Reka since Joske and Cael had appeared – he’d been able to distract himself with conversation – but returning to his own thoughts, the dark Toa was unable to stop himself from dropping his gaze to her. Heuani tried to see the peace in her mangled body, anything; he only saw twisted joints and dark wounds. She was not peaceful; she was dead, and violently so. Heuani felt no pulse in her wrist.
The Vortixx was unlike any he had taken in a long time. She impressed Heuani, for all his spoiled taste. She was, of course, a perfect feast to the eyes and a supple delicacy to the touch, but beyond that, Heuani found her to be highly original. It was as though a different kind of fire burned in her than in other beings; so deliciously ferocious was she in her adoration of him. Heuani, in fact, had not even had to say a word to seduce her; as soon as he entered back into his dark chamber, she pounced on him and attacked him with her lips. He'd eagerly returned the gesture.
Heuani found himself, for the first time in too long, excited. Harvesting others' love had become habitual to the Toa of Shadow after so many escapades; sheer joy of it only struck him occasionally now, with specimens as singular as the one he now possessed. Heuani had lusted for such a being, such a fiery release of his tensions, more than he'd realized. The Vortixx was perfect, as perfect as he was, and she wanted him; Heuani was in rare and private ecstasy as he let her do what she wished. Her kisses were immaculate, her hands deft and soft.
Heuani sighed as she pulled away for a moment. Her eyes were immense in the darkness of his room. Heuani looked straight into them. Her eyes were pools of crystal water under the moon - unobstructed portals straight into her soul. His own eyes remained cloudy, impenetrable, guarded as always, as he poured into her gaze and watched a deeper essence in them. She sat over him, her long legs straddling his abdomen.
With a strong arm, Heuani pulled the Vortixx closer to himself, so that her form pressed into his, and their noses were less than an inch apart. His eyes not leaving hers, Heuani snaked his hand slowly up her lithe body to rest over her heart. He felt it beating at triple time in excitement, almost a steady thrum against his palm. His dark, handsome face showed no expression.
The Vortixx mirrored his action like a student watching a teacher, and caressed her own way up to his heart. She let her hand lie over his chest, searching for the same heartbeat.
She felt nothing.
Could she be?
The lump jumped again to Heuani’s throat in excitement. But the Toa of Shadow quickly dismissed it. Hope, he reminded himself, was treacherous, and he had fallen for its snares too often of late. He would not let vain faith overtake him again… Against his wishes, it did. Its tug was too tantalizing.
She could be.
How could he tell? Pulse wouldn’t work. Neither would heat; he never melted snow, nor would she. Breath? Breath. Heuani let his head drop so that he could listen. But Joske still spoke, a dull mumble of sounds; it was too loud for Heuani to tell if she was breathing or not.
“Shut up!” Heuani screamed suddenly, making both Cael and Joske jump a bit. He had to listen carefully. He needed to hear. Joske, taken aback, quieted. Heuani listened with renewed vigor.
It was faint, but it was there. Reka lived.
“We can’t be sure,” he said. “We’ve never been able to be sure. It hasn’t bothered you before. Why now?”
“Because we’re closer,” she replied insistently. “It feels like this has been happening too quickly, like we’re not ready.”
“Sounds like you have cold feet to me,” he said ironically.
“Don’t be tongue in cheek,” she rejoined. “I’m trying to be serious.”
“I know,” he said. “But we’ve all become too serious; even Lewa hasn’t cracked more than four bad puns today. I’m not used to it.”
“I never would have thought you to be the sort to try injecting bad humor into a conversation,” she teased.
“You’d be right, because I’m not all that good at it,” he agreed, before returning to her concerns. “We are ready, as ready as we can be. The Great Spirit gave us tests that we overcame, and we grew from them.”
“Maybe,” she pressed. “But not enough. We may have destiny on our side, and certainly we are all driven by our duty, but the team still is not unified. That’s dangerous.”
“You’re saying that like it’s my fault,” he replied defensively.
“It is,” she chided. “It’s all of ours. But you, especially, need to reach out more.”
“I would, if he wasn’t so insufferable all the time,” he grumbled.
“Part of being on a team is learning how to work with people, even if they think an entirely different way than you do,” she interjected sharply, her voice taking on a more urgent air. “None of this will work if there’s bad air between you two. Maybe you’ve forgotten, but we all have to make sacrifices… Yours is only as large as surrendering some of your idiotic pride.”
He was quiet for a moment. She clearly was holding something back, as it was unusual to hear her so heated. Finally he broke the silence. “I’m sorry for what you’ve had to do, and what we’ve all been through.”
“I’m not,” she answered. “It’s my duty. I’m just worried about this, and worried about what will happen to you.”
“Why should you be worried about me?”
“Because you always end up doing something stupid,” she sighed, her footsteps plodding through the small puddles in the bright cave. The rush of the sparkling waterfall was prominent.
“I thought you liked that,” he finally countered, perhaps louder than he had intended.
“…I suppose it can be somewhat endearing,” she said in one exhale, the heat rising in her face evident in her heightened voice.
“I’m glad,” he said, also sounding flustered, almost angry.
“Well, if that’s how you feel-”
“No,” he corrected himself quickly. “I’m sorry, I-”
“Stressed,” she agreed. “I know.”
“It’s all been building to this.”
“That it has.”
“I’m almost glad it’s finally going to end,” he said, recovering some of his normal confidence again.
“It could all end.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“But you should consider it.”
“Then talk to him. Tell him you’re sorry, and you want to work together better.”
“If he listens, for once.”
“It’s always worth the try,” she said. “Especially now, on the eve of our destiny… If you never extend yourself, you’ll never get anywhere.”
“I’ll try to talk with him, I promise,” he assured her. There was another pause. Extended eye contact without words must have made them both blush again; they laughed hollowly a little to diffuse the awkwardness.
“Well,” she said ironically, clapping her hands and starting to walk again. “Big day tomorrow-“
“Gali.” Her footsteps were hesitant, stopped. “I… you… Well, it’s a little funny, but if… I- that’s to say, we-” He choked a little on his words, tripped.
“What is it?” She sounded patient; it was clear that he was trying to say something difficult.
“You keep apologizing. I wish you’d apologize to him for once, instead of to me.”
“It’s not about him, he isn’t the…” He was starting to get cross again. He recollected himself before continuing. “It’s something else.”
He cleared his throat, but language once again stopped him from expression.
“I want to tell you… It’s- why can’t I? - There’s just something. And you should- well, I should- I want you to know. I want you know.” He managed to end definitively. The air could have been plucked.
“I hope I already do,” she replied.
“I hope so, too,” he smiled. There were a few more light splashes as Gali stepped closer to him and his hands were graced by her soft contact. Their connection was tentative, fragile. Beautiful.
Perched on the carved Kaukau, looking through the waterfalls of Naho bay, Heuani could remember that he had seen them kiss.
Alive, she was even more gorgeous to him.
Heuani had to save her; she was drawing towards death, she had been for minutes – how she’d clung on at all was a miracle – and time was surely running out. A great urgency seized Heuani. What could he do? She needed a mask, or she would have no chance; the Maru had broken hers. It would be too late very soon. She needed his mask. But Heuani could not remove it; he did not have the strength to lift his own arms and pull it from his face.
The Toa of Shadow realized that he needed help.
The shock made his belly ignite with rage, and his initial response was vitriolic. Asking for aid was a shameful, dire idea. How could he subject himself to inferiority, neediness? He was independent; he’d always been autonomous, and he reveled in control. Now, though, he was helpless as a babe. His arms would not obey him.
There was no chance he’d be able to intimidate one of them; that tactic had already failed him before. Nor could he persuade them through wit, they didn’t trust him, there wasn’t enough time. Solicitation, the rankest path to his pride, was the only route. It pained Heuani to know that he had to grovel in front of the Toa who had destroyed him mere hours ago. A stone had dropped from a high altitude and landed in his gut. He could not; he would not have, but for her sake.
“…Cael,” Heuani finally swallowed, his flitting eyes averted from her. “She is alive. She needs my mask. I can’t… I can’t reach it.”
“Don’t do it, Cael,” Joske warned. “It has to be a ploy.”
“I’m not lying,” Heuani snarled.
“All you do is lie,” Joske growled back. “You lied to Cael when you took her the first time. Why should she trust you now?”
“She shouldn’t. But she must.”
“Someone is dying.”
“You’ve killed dozens; why should you care now?”
“You’ve never killed; why start now?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Nor you mine. She needs my mask.”
“If she even still lives.”
“I heard her breathe. She’s alive; she needs my mask.”
“So why don’t you ask me to take your mask off?” Cael cut in, breaking the mounting fury in the air.
“I did,” Heuani said.
“No, you didn’t,” Cael replied. “You told me what was happening, but you didn’t ask anything.”
“Fine,” Heuani said, looking at the ground with his golden eyes. “Take my mask off and give it to her.”
“That was an order. You didn’t ask.”
“I don’t see the difference.”
“I can tell.”
“She’s dying. So do it.”
“Not until you ask me to.”
Heuani glared at Cael. All the darkness of the world was a fixed point in the center of his gaze, and Cael felt the back of her neck tingle. Heuani’s eyes, already opened, unlocked, and Cael was drawn into their enigmatic darkness as irrevocably as a rodent into the hypnotic eyes of a cobra.
She felt as though she was falling down a long chute into the dark heavens of Heuani’s soul. The clouds of this realm were ashen grey, and little stars peeked through here and there like lanterns on an ocean. Everything whistled about as though there were strong winds. She saw a point somewhere in the middle where the winds did not penetrate, a shielded place. She drew closer, almost saw what marvels waited there-
But suddenly Cael was drawn back to the surface of Heuani’s eyes as she noticed them growing wet. The Toa of Shadow’s intense gaze was watered down; he was on the verge of tears, and grimaced to catch them before they fell.
“Please,” he choked.
Cael obeyed his wishes, and took Heuani’s Felnas off of him before placing it onto Reka. The Toa of Water stepped back; she was surprised that Heuani’s request had been as innocent as he’d asked. Heuani, meanwhile, looked down at Reka. As soon as the mask was slipped on her face, her breathing grew louder, more regular; it was as if she was merely in a deep sleep. The stone of pride in his stomach lifted, replaced by the joy of seeing her renewed.
Heuani, meanwhile, felt his energy drain all the quicker. If he hadn’t already been leaning against the tree, Heuani would have surely slumped into it. Not that that mattered; the Toa of Shadow’s body was not important to him. He remarked how quickly he lost even the physical strength to tilt his head, but it wasn’t a frightening recognition. He could feel no fear as he looked down at her dark new vessel, watched her stir, and felt her fingers twitch in his. She would wake soon, and then he would be able to tell her everything. There was so much he’d always meant to say, and he delighted in how quickly the remarks flooded back to his memory.
The gates were opened, and more memories gushed through Heuani. He could remember further back than ever before; there was even the memory of the earliest brightness, the circle that had opened for him and let the joyous sun into his small universe. He’d been blinded by it then, and his eyes had squinted, but not like they would now. He had wondered at the sun, not hated it; he had taken stock of its dominion as he’d stepped out of the cylindrical pod and into the world for the first time. Behind him had been the lapping sea, and he’d known that life was good. Even then he had known what he wanted.
He remembered the others; they had been bright, born to be heroes, baptized by the same light that had blessed Heuani’s head so long ago. Those had been the days of faith, and the peoples of the island had greeted Heuani and the rest of the First Toa as gods. They’d had a mission, how simple it had been, how right it had seemed. Heuani knew better now; life was not good, not unless you did what you wanted. He’d learned that too many times to forget it. It was why he’d broken.
Among the confused jumble that returned to him, though, she was most prominent in his mind. She’d been returning to him across an extended time, piecemeal; even amongst the countless others that he took, Heuani had never found another as satisfying as her. It’d taken him so long to realize why, to understand what she meant again. Now that he understood his deeper draw to her, the deeds of his past were tainted with the guilt of long-sought, but abandoned, comprehension.
Nothing mattered. Her eyes were opening.
She had approached him with eyes that said too much, unusually expressive eyes that had been opened uncharacteristically wide by her overwhelming and conflicting emotion. Heuani had had nothing to say; he simply needed her.
She needed him, too, and she hated it. Heuani could read the betrayal in her face, and it still haunted him.
But her submission, her hunger, was still the sweetest he had known. It was because of her eyes... They had changed. Heuani had to believe that they had changed for him.
Reka’s eyes, looking up at Heuani, were indeed changed.
They were the same indescribable gold as his eyes, and the same hue as they’d been before the battle with the Maru. Their physical structure was unchanged; they were fashioned like they always had been. They squinted, resentful of the glare of the sun; gradually, they eased open, her utterly expressive, breathtaking eyes. That was no different. It was what lay behind the eyes that Heuani noticed, because what he saw came as something of a shock.
Her humor, sagacity, charm, and gentility were gone; the wry, wise spirit that had once been so known to him was unrecognizable. If he had not known who she had once been, Heuani would never have guessed that the shark eyes he stared into belonged to her. They seemed to be even an opposite of their former selves: impulsive, hungry, sadistic, savage. They were predatory rather than sisterly in the way they appraised him. When he’d seen her before, had he really been so enthralled by her lustful shape that he’d been unable to perceive the change behind the doors of her core?
The person he was seeing was not Gali. It was Reka. And he was Heuani. He no longer wanted to be.
The two Toa of Shadow locked eyes and conversed through the connection. Heuani could not stop himself from tears anymore; salty gems dripped onto his chest as she repositioned herself, crouched beside him, still maintaining eye contact. Joske and Cael watched stilly, unwilling and unable to break the silent exchange of the dark figures they watched. With every moment that passed, Reka grew stronger and Heuani weaker; the donation of the Felnas had switched their roles. Reka’s wounds, fed by darkness, started to mend, and her beautiful body was slowly restored.
Heuani suffered her presence as keenly and excitingly as a knife poised to break his skin. He wanted not to watch her – he knew what she was, it was what he had been – but he couldn’t help himself. She crawled closer to him, calculatingly, dangerously, but Heuani welcomed it. He could smell her, yearned to touch her, even though her gaze was fixed with unholy wrath into his culpable essence. She was irresistible; he needed her to take him.
Her kiss, light, cruelly so, was divine.
And Heuani felt in that instant that everything was going wrong; through the gentle contact, Reka had used his Felnas on him.
From within the vulnerable Toa of Shadow, new reserves of dark energy sprouted clawed hands. The shades, Heuani knew, would devour him from the inside out. It was a familiar sensation similar to shadow jumping – dissolution – but extended painfully, infinite needles splintering him into dust. Heuani was being torn apart by his own element.
He didn’t blame Reka; he had taken her, consumed her in ravenous innocence, and now it was her turn to take him in the same way. The truth was that some part of Reka’s twisted mind must have recognized that Heuani deserved recompense, which meant that she remembered. Gali was still inside the dark body, and it made him smile. For once, Heuani was glad not to be in control; he yielded gleefully to her punishment, took his whipping with relish. The shadow particles that tore him were virtuous darkness.
It was Joske’s fault, Heuani decided. Joske had bested him, cheated in their duel, and toppled Heuani at the height of his strength. Joske had thrown Heuani into the pit of reticence from which he hadn’t been able to escape in time. Joske was his killer… so many killers masquerading as heroes. Heuani, at least, had never pretended to be anything other than what he was. He was greedy and proud, and it was no secret.
He was truthful.
Before Joske and Cael’s eyes, Heuani dissolved into a black mist, melted docilely into the mottled gloom of the jungle. They tensed, expected the underhanded Toa of Shadow to emerge again behind them with his eerie sword raised. He did not.
Reka had watched Heuani fade, and she stood up impassively, looking carelessly down at the spot where he’d reclined, fully formed, seconds before. Slaying him seemed not to have perturbed her; instead, she was interested by Heuani’s sword, which had not melted with him. The ripple-bladed clear weapon was still there, resting on a patch of moss, and under the green glow of the canopy it seemed even more alien. She started to reach for the weapon; Joske’s voice halted her progress.
“What did you do?” he asked as authoritatively as he could muster.
“Revenge,” Reka smiled coyly. She turned to walk away – Joske couldn’t help following her with his eyes, to Cael’s annoyance – and, sensing Joske’s glance on her, Reka peered over her shoulder and raised her eyebrows at him. “It tastes sweet. Try some.”
“He doesn’t want any,” Cael assured her. “Sleaze.”
“Oh my, insulting me already?” Reka cooed lightly, her eyes overtly tracing Joske’s lines. “We don’t even know each other yet, darling… But I get the feeling we could get to know each other very well, if we felt so inclined-”
“Leave,” Joske ordered, looking deliberately away from Reka.
“You’re adorable when you blush; suit yourself,” Reka purred, still looking at Joske. “I’ll be in touch sooner or later.” She gave him a last wink and then sauntered off; the sunlight exemplified her tantalizing body as she strutted lithely away. Despite himself, Joske watched; Cael hit him on the arm, regaining his focus. Reka, meanwhile, disappeared into blackness and was gone.
“Look what was left,” Cael said, gesturing to the flamberge on the ground. “I wonder why it didn’t leave with him.”
Joske looked at the weapon pensively. “Maybe… Maybe it’s not his, anymore.” He took a few steps over to the sword and bent beside it. It really was an odd thing, certainly unlike any other weapon on the island; but it was also beautiful, lying on the moss and bending some of the light from above into dazzling patterns. On a whim, Joske picked it up; to his surprise, it was weighted perfectly to his arm. Flamberge in hand, he stood again and swung the sword in a few practice strokes. It was effortless. It was perfect.
It was the sword of a servant of the mighty Mata Nui.
Heuani stood and watched as the spiny creatures pulled open the tall doors for him; he walked into the room on shadowy feet that he was still not accustomed to. The gates were closed behind him with the hiss of stone grating on stone, and Heuani found he was confronted with the same darkness he had once pledged to destroy. To his newly sensitive eyes, it was a discrete shade of night, a separate entity from the ambivalent blackness elsewhere in the dark room. Something about its presence set his hackles tingling. Heuani bowed before the full emptiness before him.
“Rise, Heuani,” the darkness said in its bass rattle, and Heuani obeyed the syllables of his new name. The darkness roiled, serpentine, to itself. “I trust that she was to your enjoyment?”
Heuani nodded. “Yes… master,” he said, tasting the foreign phrase of respect in his mouth. Heuani could not help smiling a little as he thought about her submissive beauty, the ecstasy of her hunger; nevertheless he found his grin tinged with something poignant that he could not place. “She was… was all I could have hoped for.”
“Good,” the darkness replied with a degree of keenness. “I am glad to see you satisfied with our arrangement. I will make sure you have another one like her soon.” Heuani furrowed his brow slightly, as though to be sure he’d heard correctly – another? The darkness must have noticed, for it chuckled, the sound of boulders falling down bottomless rocky ravines. “Yes, Heuani. I mean for you never to be unfulfilled.”
As the darkness continued to speak, red lightstones glowed slightly to life on the walls of the chamber, revealing several weapons lined up on the floor but still failing to penetrate the sentient blackness at the other end of the room. Heuani recognized all the tools: a pair of claws, a large axe, sturdy kickers, twin hooks, a shield, and two swords. Heuani instinctively reached for one of the swords. “Patience Heuani,” the darkness ordered. “I have summoned you here to present you with a new weapon, a better weapon. Behold.”
Out of a shadowy wisp a sword unlike any Heuani had ever seen materialized before him. It had a sturdy, elegant metal hilt – a basic T-shaped crossbar, an unadorned ovular pommel, all crafted out of smooth lines – but what was remarkable about the weapon was its transparent, rippling blade. Heuani plucked the sword from the air and felt its balance suit him excellently, as though it had been made for his arm.
The blade looked like it was made of glass, and its edge was so sharp it almost disappeared into the shade around it. He pulled the flat of the flamberge close to his face and noted that its seemingly smooth surface was actually comprised of exceedingly minute flat polygons that bent so subtly that their edges were imperceptible unless closely examined. Inside the blade, Heuani’s acute vision made out a tiny crevice, an angular-looking air bubble; it was, as far as he could see, the sword’s only flaw.
“Beautiful, is it not?” the darkness rumbled. “That is the sword of a servant of the mighty Makuta. It never loses its edge, and it will never betray you in battle. You may depart.” Heuani nodded, bowed again and, kneeling, picked something else up from the floor. The darkness boiled, startling Heuani a little. “You cannot use that,” it stated.
“Why not?” Heuani asked, before quickly tacking on a “master” at the end of his inquiry to lend it a more respectful tone.
“You are no longer who you once were,” the darkness informed him. “And you never will be again. Do not trap yourself in old habits; if you do not embrace aggression, embrace instinct, feeling – that which defined your greatest foe – you will be weak and of no use to me. The reason you are still alive, the reason you stand changed as you are, is because I see your potential. I still see you as useful... It would be unwise to change my perception. Put the shield down and learn to fight without it.”